Argentina: is Barrick Gold shrinking Chilean glaciers?

In a report published on July 19, the Argentine branch of the environmental group Greenpeace charged that operations by the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation in the Andes at the border with Chile had already significantly damaged three small glaciers. Citing a 2005 technical study, Greenpeace said the surface of the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers “diminished by between about 56% and 70% because of the activities carried out by Barrick” even before mining operations had begun. The regions on either side of the border are arid, and farmers in the valleys largely depend on Andean glaciers as a source of water.

Barrick, the world’s largest gold mining company, has two open-pit gold and silver mines near the glaciers. Veladero, in Argentina’s northwestern San Juan province, has been in production since 2005, with a projected life of 14 years; Pascua Lama, partly in San Juan province and partly in Chile’s Huasco province, is scheduled to open in 2013, with a projected life of 21 years.

Greenpeace attributes the shrinkage of the three small glaciers to exploratory and other preliminary work on the mines, such as road construction, drilling and the use of explosives, which could cover the glaciers’ surfaces with dust and discarded material. Although most glaciers are being affected by global warming, Greenpeace says other glaciers in the area didn’t experience the same shrinkage as the three closest to the mine. Environmentalists expect that the other glaciers will suffer similar damage as mining operations expand.

The Veladero and Pascua Lama mines have been targets of protests for years. Barrrick originally intended to move the three glaciers as part of the operation, but this plan was shelved after strong protests by Chilean environmentalists. Argentina has passed a law for the protection of Andean glaciers which could limit damage from the mines. However, Barrick has filed for injunctive relief from the measure, and in November 2010 an Argentine judge suspended the law in San Juan province, ruling that it would cause economic damage. (Adital, Brazil, July 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24.

See our last post on Argentina, Chile, the mineral cartel in Latin America, and the climate crisis in the Andes.